CONSERVATION COMMISSION PRESS RELEASE
(Adopted from inter-agency town memo)
Conservation Commission Embracing Renewed Responsibilities
In May of 2006 the Town separated the duties of the then, Conservation Commission, into an Inland Wetlands Commission and a Conservation Commission. Many members of the 2006 Conservation Commission now sit on the present Inland Wetland Commission, while many members of the 2006 ad hoc Open Space Task Force became Conservation Commissioners.
The Conservation Commission is mandated under State Statute to advise and regulate the natural resources for the Town of Newtown. These duties were adopted on a local level through Town Ordinance 65 in 1963, and further amended in 2006. A portion of the duties assigned to the new Conservation Commission include these excerpts from Town Ordinance 65:
“A Conservation Commission for the development and conservation of natural resources, including water resources, within the territorial limits of the Town of Newtown is hereby established under the name Conservation Commission. Among the natural resources with which the Commission is concerned are so-called "open space" or "open area" which shall be deemed to include any space or area the preservation or restriction of the use of which would (1) maintain or enhance the conservation of natural or scenic resources, (2) protect natural streams or water supply, (3) promote conservation of soils, wet lands, beaches or tidal marshes, (4) enhance the value to the public of abutting or neighboring parks, forests, wildlife preserves, nature reservations or sanctuaries, or other open areas and open spaces, (5) afford or enhance public recreation opportunities, (6) preserve historic sites, (7) implement the plan of development adopted by the planning commission of any municipality or (8) promote orderly development or (9) help reduce the demands of residential development for town services and resulting expenditures…
The said Commission shall:
- Conduct researches into the utilization and possible utilization of land areas in the Town of Newtown;
- Keep an index of all open areas, publicly or privately owned, including open marshlands, swamps and other wet lands in the Town of Newtown;
The said Commission may:
- Advertise and prepare and distribute such books, maps, charts, plans and pamphlets as may be necessary for its purposes;
- Recommend to the First Selectman, the Legislative Council or the Planning and Zoning Commission such plans and programs (including the acquisition of conservation easements) for the development and use of open areas within the Town of Newtown as it deems necessary and desirable for its purposes;
- Exchange information with the Commissioner of Agriculture and Natural Resources."
While the present Conservation Commission has a much broader mandate than the old Open Space Task Force, acquisition and preservation of open space remains an important role. The Conservation Commission is advised of potential open space acquisition opportunities, which might be by outright gift, purchase of property, purchase of a conservation easement, or a combination of these. In addition, the Commission works proactively to identify potential open space opportunities. Commissioners walk potential open space and rate it as to desirability for the town using a standardized rating scale. The Commission then discusses the various properties at the regular Commission meetings, rank the properties in order of desirability for the town, and present the results to the Board of Selectmen with recommendations as to acquisition.
In addition to simple purchase of open space, any subdivision development in Newtown is required, under Planning and Zoning regulations, to give a percentage of buildable land as open space. The Conservation Commission, in its advisory capacity, works with the Planning and Zoning Commission to recognize the most desirable areas of a subdivision proposal for the open space.
The pursuit of open space has many positive effects on a community, one of which is financial. Studies have shown that preservation of open space leads to a decrease in property taxes. In order to have smart growth, which keeps a strong and sustainable tax, economic development, residential development and open space must all be present and integrated. Without open space, smart growth cannot take place.
Conservation work and the town’s commitment of $5.5 million have lead to many accomplishments for Newtown’s open space goals. Here are a few of the highlights of what the Open Space Task Force’s and Conservation Commission’s work has produced over the last 5 years:
- Protection of over 193 acres at a cost to the town of approximately $28,497 per acre.
- Avoidance of 27 new homes and associated town services.
- Securing public lake access.
- Linking existing Open Space owned by Town or Newtown Forest Association Land Trust.
- Promoted the conservation of soils, wetlands, water supplies and other natural resources.
- Preserved the entrance views to the Town.
Over the last 2½ years 34 pieces of property (some proposed for purchase and some for donation) have been reviewed by the Conservation Commission, 18 were subject to no further action on the part of either the Town or the property owner, 9 are either pending possible purchase or donation or in process of review and recommendations to the town and 6 purchases have been completed.
The Town of Newtown and the Conservation Commission also seek available grants to help with property purchases. Newtown has already received two grants for open space purchases under the State Open Space Matching Grant Program. The Town of Newtown has been awarded $138,775.00 for the Pole Bridge Preserve and $157,000.00 for the Laurel Trail Property.
The Conservation Commission holds its public meetings on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at the Newtown Municipal Center and encourages public participation. The Commission actively is researching how to protect more land and welcomes information regarding future open space donations and purchases. Individuals and groups may contact the Commissioners through the town’s website, or through the Conservation Official at 270-4276.
1 Southern New England Forest Consortium - 1996 Cost of Commission Study
James A. Ryan (D)
Cindy Joyce (D)
02/16/16 - 12/31/17
C. Thomas Philbrick (U)
12/31/15 - 12/31/19
Chris Smith (D)
06/28/16 - 12/31/19
Karlyn Sturmer (D)
12/31/15 - 12/31/19
Holly Kocet (D)
12/12/16 - 12/31/17